England made it four wins out of four at Rugby World Cup 2023 but were made to work hard before overcoming Samoa 18-17 in Lille on Saturday.
After Ollie Chessum's score for England early in the first half, Samoa - who beat Chile and lost to Argentina and Japan by fewer than 10 points - played with ambition and growing confidence, and were rewarded with two tries from Nigel Ah-Wong within five first-half minutes and had two more ruled out by the Television Match Official.
Already confirmed as Pool D winners, England will play the runners-up in Pool C - Australia or, more likely, Fiji - in the quarter-finals in Marseille on Sunday, 15 October.
Despite being on the losing side, Samoa fly-half Lima Sopoaga was named the Mastercard Player of the Match and said: "It has been a disappointing couple of weeks, we felt we just didn’t give the jersey the justice it deserved. Tonight I’m proud, we didn’t come away with the chocolates but we left it all out there and that’s all that anyone can ask. I’m incredibly proud of the boys, just a little bit disappointed and just gutted for Samoa and all our fans and supporters."
And when asked what were the turning points in the game, he added: "I guess a call here and there, a mistake here and there and at the highest level you’ll pay. That’s a quality England team, they hung in there and they got over the line in the end. But I am incredibly proud of the team and what we tried to give out there. We were down early and we kept fighting and unfortunately it just wasn't our day today."
England captain Owen Farrell said of his team's performance: "It was scrappy. It didn't feel like the best from us but all credit has to go to Samoa, the way they came out and fired shots at us tonight was tough to deal with at times. We didn't deal with it discipline-wise, we didn't deal with it with mistakes at times. I'm glad we found a way back in. I'm glad when we weren't at our best we found a way to win."
Farrell overtook Jonny Wilkinson as England's all-time top points scorer but said: "I don't know what it means at the minute. I'm still thinking about the game, still thinking about us. It will be like that for [a long time to come] and I'll think about it later down the line."
England head coach Steve Borthwick said: "My first thoughts are what a performance for Samoa, I thought they were absolutely incredible today, put us under enormous pressure, that is a huge credit to them.
"For us, it was scrappy, we made a lot of errors and there were periods where we didn't play within our system. That put us under an awful lot of pressure. There are some huge learnings and it was a tough test for next week."
On Farrell's record, Borthwick added: "What a player he is. He was integral today leading this team through a very difficult game through a performance that was very scrappy to get a win. A great player and leader."
Samoa captain Michael Alaalatoa was happy to have put on a performance but despondent at getting so close to a first victory over England. He said: "Really disappointed. Lost for words really around the way the result went but that’s the game we were looking for this whole World Cup. We’ve shown in glimpses what we can do and tonight we put in an 80-minute performance that we can be proud of. Immensely proud of my boys, we left it all out there and we did everything we could to win that game. Some of the England players said themselves that it’s the toughest game they’ve had so far. It’s good to know that as well."
Head coach Seilala Mapusua added: "Pretty lost for words at the moment. If anything, my heart breaks for these boys because they deserve much more than they got out there today. They (England) threw everything at them, asked a lot of questions of them and they definitely answered those questions."